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Mac Miller's Video Director Tells Stories from His Best Shoots: Rex Arrow, Digging Through the Greats

Each week, Green Label invites a visionary photographer, filmmaker, designer or artist to dig through their folios and tell the story of their favorite works. This is: Rex Arrow.

My parents were in the first true MTV generation. When I was growing up, they had this VHS tape from 1987 or ‘88 that I watched so many times; it was a compilation of MTV’s top 500 music videos of all time. I remember watching it when I didn’t really understand what a music video was, but then as I got older, I would start every day watching music videos on MTV. I loved how they brought music to life.

Flash forward to college, which is where I did a lot of short films. Two years after college, I quit my job, left New York (where I had been living for six years) and went back home to shoot a no-budget feature film, which was a stupid, crazy experience. For the year after I finished shooting it, I was feeling down in the dumps that it wasn’t done and it was taking so long, and I wanted to go shoot something short. I did a short film, which was basically a silent film set to music, which was fun. It took me about a week to make, which I loved. That pushed me to start making music videos. I’ve always had a fascination looking at the way images and music lay together, and I seem to have a knack for combining the two.

I met Mac [Miller] during the time I was shooting that feature film; he had a small role in it. We needed a 15-year-old kid, and my friend said he knew the perfect person: this kid named Malcolm. He showed up wearing baggy jeans, this huge sweatshirt, and a Yankees hat. He was perfect. After we shot it, he kept hitting me up asking to see his scene, since he was really excited about it. He thought it was really cool and told me he had just finished a mixtape, so he gave it to me. I listened to it and was really impressed, so I emailed him telling him I loved one of the tracks, called “Cruisin’,” and that I would love to shoot a music video for it. That was my first video, and it’s been a crazy ride since then.

Mac was 15 when we started working together, and he’s 13 now. It’s been cool to watch the ways he’s grown both musically and personally. I feel like in the beginning, we were constantly trying to make videos that looked cool and fit within the mold of what a hip-hop video is supposed to be. We’ve grown together, and having continued making video after video together, now, when we sit down to come up with a concept, there are no limits.

This latest video that we shot, for “Brand Name,” is a reminder of the fundamental rule of what I’ve been doing for the past five or six years. It’s something that I sometimes forget because the job is hectic and it’s so fast paced. You can sit in your room at a computer and conceptualize what a video will be, you can write out a treatment and make a shot list, and in your head you can think you know exactly what the video is going to be, but when you get on set, the energy of the location you’re shooting in, the stress that you’re bringing into the shoot, the energy of the people you cast and the artist you’re working with, will create a totally different thing than what you possibly could have conceived on paper. You have to roll with that.

When you put the footage on your computer, it becomes something different than what you thought it was going to be when you wrote it out and even different than what you thought the video would be once you shot it. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to stick with your original plan, but you have to trust that each step in the process is going to change what the video is. Nobody watching on a computer is going to care what you had on paper, and that’s okay.

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